It was ex­pen­sive, un­sta­ble, and over­spec­i­fied, and it dealt a fa­tal blow to Roger Linn’s com­pany… but it set the tone for the fu­ture of mu­sic pro­duc­tion

Computer Music - - Contents -

Linn 9000

Roger Linn’s name is revered in elec­tronic mu­sic cir­cles, and for good rea­son – he has an un­canny abil­ity to pre­dict what mu­si­cians need be­fore they them­selves know, and he delivers it in spades. His LM-1 Drum Com­puter was the first to com­bine user-pro­gram­mable pat­terns with sam­ples of real drums. Its stag­ger­ing price ($4995) made it the ex­clu­sive play­thing of mon­eyed hit­mak­ers who du­ti­fully churned out an end­less list of chart-top­pers built on its ir­re­sistible groove.

The LM-1 was fol­lowed the Lin­nDrum, a cheaper, more pow­er­ful suc­ces­sor that fell short of the LM-1 only in that not all of its sam­ples could be repitched. Re­leased in 1982, the Lin­nDrum came in just be­fore the in­tro­duc­tion of MIDI, though a retro­fit was of­fered by third par­ties. Linn’s next drum ma­chine would make up for this omis­sion – and then some.

With a mas­sive grey chas­sis em­bla­zoned with a pink and turquoise logo, the Linn 9000 is the epit­ome of 80s style. Yet to mod­ern eyes, there’s some­thing strik­ingly fa­mil­iar in the thick, pres­sure-sen­si­tive pads, gen­tly slop­ing panel and LCD dis­play. It be­comes even clearer when reading the spec­i­fi­ca­tions. You see, the Linn 9000 wasn’t just a drum ma­chine – it was a full-fea­tured MIDI pro­duc­tion stu­dio, and the tem­plate upon which many man­u­fac­tur­ers still build their beat­boxes to this very day.

As a drum ma­chine, the 9000 was cut­ting edge, of­fer­ing 32 drum sounds that could be trig­gered with those 18 ve­loc­ity- and pres­sure­sen­si­tive pads. In­di­vid­ual tun­ing, pan and level were avail­able for ev­ery sound, as were ded­i­cated out­puts. Linn’s fa­mous shuf­fle was in­cluded as a unique pro­gram­mable hi-hat de­cay, ad­justable by means of a ded­i­cated slider.

How­ever, it was the in­te­grated MIDI se­quenc­ing that trans­formed the 9000 into some­thing truly special. Un­til the Linn 9000, no one had thought to com­bine drum and MIDI se­quenc­ing into a sin­gle unit. Here, users could avail them­selves of 100 drum se­quences and 100 MIDI se­quences of up to 10,490 notes.

Op­tional extras, as if the main features weren’t enough, in­cluded user sam­pling, SMPTE, a floppy drive, and an ad­di­tional six trig­ger in­puts (six came stan­dard).

Such power cost the jaw-drop­ping price of $5000, with the op­tions adding an­other $2000. As such, this was clearly aimed at the stu­dio pro­ducer who would not be able to suf­fer the Linn 9000’s birth pangs. The rush to mar­ket re­vealed the unit’s soft­ware to be buggy, un­sta­ble, and un­fin­ished.

Still, that didn’t stop it be­ing scooped up and used to great ef­fect by lu­mi­nar­ies like Michael Jack­son; Ge­orge Michael; Hall & Oates; and Stock, Aitken and Waterman (and thereby Rick Ast­ley).

Even­tu­ally, the trou­bled 9000 con­trib­uted to the clo­sure of Linn Elec­tron­ics, with the re­main­ing in­ven­tory picked up by Fo­rat Elec­tron­ics – who fixed the 9000’s bugs and still ser­vice them to­day, and even sell their own ver­sion! Roger Linn him­self would ap­ply the best bits of the 9000 de­sign to his next clas­sic, Akai’s leg­endary MPC60, a ma­chine that would rev­o­lu­tionise mu­sic pro­duc­tion in the 1990s and be­yond.

TECH SPECS Year of man­u­fac­ture 1984-1987 Orig­i­nal sale value $5,000 Cur­rent price ap­prox. $1,100 Num­ber made 1,100

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